On the campaign trail in Dunedin North with Victor Billot

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Posts Tagged ‘Otago University

Turkeys for Christmas

with 3 comments

Today was the three yearly Helen visit to campus, where she announces some small time fiddle around the edges of the student debt scheme.

As in 2005, students have such low expectations, their political culture has become so complacent and their intellect so dulled, that they applaud wildly when they are thrown such crumbs. It is a spectacle resembling turkeys cheering for Christmas. 

The $10 billion debt is accepted as a fact of life. Fees and debt are normalized. Unfortunately when these comfortable, consumerist middle class kids hit the workforce in a year or two’s time, they are going to find out the hard way what starting out in life in the middle of a recession/depression is like. There is going to be unemployment, massive debt and serious problems for years to come. But by then it will be too late. They will have the debt. They will postpone buying the house, and postpone the family. They will react by swinging further to the right, demanding tax cuts and rejecting any concept of wider social responsibility, because they have been left to fend for themselves. This is the legacy of Labour.

Young people have been paying for the greatest intergenerational theft in New Zealand history, where a welfare state cossetted postwar generation awarded their wealthiest members a tax cut and provided the next generation with a legacy of debt.

But history is dead and the election is a horserace between two presidential contenders, the liberal candidate and the conservative candidate. The death of the vision of the founders of the Labour Party, genuine socialists whom I hold in high esteem, will be complete. New Zealand will have returned to a nineteenth century situation where two factions of the middle class battle it out – in the modern context, the bureaucrats versus the capitalists. A depoliticized population will descend into amoral hedonism and the cult of money, and a gutted union movement will stagger onwards towards oblivion.

A decade ago, politicians were still getting challenged and called to account. Today I was the only serious heckler with two or three others. People were genuinely confused and upset that anyone would disagree publicly with the Leader. This deadbeat, democratically castrated and spineless attitude seems to be dominant. This was a celebrity gig. The less politics the better.

The event was a stage managed opportunity for the Labour Party to announce its new policy. That’s probably why the platoon of sycophants who follow senior politicians around looked a little annoyed at me. I wasn’t reading from a script. A gaggle of embedded press gallery journalists trail around after her to document the self-referential world of professional career politicians.

The worrying thing is that Labour has actually created, through their manipulative approach and cooling down of the vital spark of social resistance, a generation of people who are politically conservative, individualistic and are devoid of any sense of political history, or dare I say it idealism.

Whereas once student activism focussed around a small but vibrant culture of confused and excited ideas jostling for space, the flat, empty “pragmatism” that reigns supreme in todays University environment is a reflection of a passionless, washed out defeatism. When peoples sights are set so low, nothing good can come of it.

At a time when a committed and informed generation of young people are so badly needed to solve the civilization-defining problems coming on stream, it seems that although Labour may have won the elections, the Right have won the hearts and minds of a generation.

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Written by Victor

October 13, 2008 at 5:36 am

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Speech at the Great Tertiary Education Debate

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The Alliance supports free education.

We stand for the following policies:

Removal of tuition fees.

Abolition of the Student Loans Scheme and the immediate writing off of all loans.

A living allowance for all students at the level of the Unemployment Benefit.

Increased funding for public tertiary institutions, especially regional polytechnics, and provide adequate funding for libraries.

Cutting funding to private, profit-making tertiary providers.

Prioritising New Zealand public tertiary institutions over multinational education providers.

The Alliance Party agrees with the policy of NZUSA.

Our policies, unlike National’s tax cuts for the rich, are affordable. They are realistic. They are fully costed.

Free education can be paid for by progressive taxation. Those on low incomes pay less tax. Those on above average incomes like myself pay a little more. Those on high incomes like John Key pay somewhat more. With Alliance, John will still be able to afford his holiday home in Hawaii, and the young people of New Zealand get a free education.

We are all supposed to swoon in gratitude that after nine years the Labour Government has cooked up a generous offer, five weeks out from a general election.

This is like being mugged by someone who steals your wallet but leaves you the bus fare home.

Now we have a thoroughly dishonest National Party pretending they can hand out free money to everyone on the wrong end of a global financial meltdown, and not charge more for education and health.

I am happy to answer questions on the details.

But I would like to make a personal case as to why I support free education.

My first year studying at the tertiary level was in 1990 so I feel I have grown up with user pays education. I was at the University Registry over the road here the day police batoned students who were peacefully gathered in front of the building to protest user pays.

My observation is the generations who grew up in times of war and depression created a society which despite many flaws attempted to provide security and stability.

But the generation who benefited from these policies, the post war generation, did not pass on what they had received.

The inter-generational contract was broken.

John Key and Helen Clark are both leaders of the privileged post war generation who have rewarded their own generation and class, at the expense of the next generation.

The Fourth Labour Government destroyed free education in New Zealand in 1989. The succeeding National and Labour Governments have left students, many of whom are young people, with a crushing mountain of debt.

This has impacted most severely on those from low income backgrounds, women and minority groups.

Many of my generation have found out the hard way what student debt means. The sad fact is most teenagers attending tertiary education for the first time do not understand the implications of debt. In many cases neither do their parents. Especially, once again, if they do not come from the privileged level of society.

Many young people today did not experience the economic troubles of the 1980s and 1990s. We are about to plunge into a history defining depression. What will happen when the jobs dry up and the debt is still there? We will see a convergence of debt, of student loans, private loans and credit card debt and unaffordable mortgages. We are heading for a crunch and there are going to be a lot of people badly hurt.

What have I noticed? People waiting to have families until they are financially secure, because that is what you are supposed to do. To pay off the debt. To buy the house.

Some wait too long and now they will never have families.

My wife, who comes from a provincial freezing works family, came to University in her late twenties. Her life savings went into paying for her education. Because she is a woman she is financially disadvantaged if she wishes to have a family which requires time away from the workforce. User pays education is especially unfair to women, who are expected to be both childbearers and workers in a society where the two income family is the norm.

In a few months I am going to become a parent for the first time. I would like to be part of a generation that reforges the contract we have with our society, with our next generation. I do not want my child to grow up in a selfish, harsh place. I believe my generation have been let down. I believe we have to do better for the next generation. That is the choice we have to make.

Some people seem to think that running a country is like running a business.

I believe that organizing a society, organizing a nation, is like having a family. You don’t do it make a profit.

In my family, my parents went the extra mile for me. Shouldn’t we be doing that as a society? Going the extra mile for our young people?

Aren’t we all part of a larger family, a larger community? When I look around here, I don’t see competitors or economic production units. I see my fellow citizens.

It seems to me as if there are two voices in this debate. There is the voice that says, what do I care about anyone else? It’s my money. I want to hide away and watch my thirty inch plasma TV behind locked doors. 

Then there is the other voice, the voice of our better selves, which quietly says why are we here? We are here to help one another.

This isn’t just a matter of maths. It’s also about listening to that better voice.

Free education, barrier fee education, is right. It is economically right, it is socially right, and it is morally right.

To achieve free education, we need to stop pretending that asking National or Labour nicely is going to work. It hasn’t worked in the last twenty years. Maybe it’s time we changed tactics and realized who our friends are.

I invite you to vote for the Alliance Party for free education. If everyone in New Zealand who agreed with our policies did this, we would be back in Parliament, and we would be making a difference. It’s time to support the people who will support you.

Written by Victor

October 4, 2008 at 3:46 am

The Great Tertiary Debate – my rankings

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Today was the first real debate of the season. The Great Tertiary Debate was held as part of the NZUSA national students conference at the Dunedin College of Education Auditorium today at 3pm.

I arrived early after a hectic day getting radio and print advertising sorted out, and getting in some work on the Maritime Union magazine I edit as well. Student delegates from throughout New Zealand were milling around and I spoke to a few which was fun and relaxing as they were a pretty mellow bunch.

On to the debate. Well, we all know there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get onto the panel but I am pleased to say NZUSA did me right in the end. Lined up were Conway Powell (National, Dunedin South), Hilary Calvert (ACT, Dunedin North), Joe Burton (United spokesperson), Meteria Turei (Greens, Dunedin North), Pete Hodgson (Labour, Dunedin North), and a woman who had travelled up from Invercargill for the Maori Party, whose name I didn’t catch in full (hope to update this when I find out.)

The debate was run smoothly enough with the two NZUSA co-prezzes on site and Marian Simms from the Pols Department adding her inimitable dry Aussie humour to her duties as Chair.

And of course yours truly.

Here are the results, once again in the interests of fairness I have not rated myself but have uploaded my speech to You tube for you to rate it yourself. (E-democracy?)

Conway Powell (B-)

Mr Conway, as the Otago Daily Times refer to him, must be the unluckiest candidate on the planet. Not only did National send him into Dunedin South where he has fruitlessly doorstepped every pensioner in the vain hope of finding a stray vote, they then put him at number 563 on their list. Cruel blow follows cruel blow.

Now the Tories latest insult to Mr Conway is to send him along to get a pounding at a student forum, probably to let Mr Smooth, their Dunedin North candidate, off the hook so he doesn’t tarnish his John Key Lite image. (John Key Lite – yes, it is possible. Lite lite.)

Anyway Mr Conway knew he was on to a loser from the start and tried to jolly along the audience, even at the expense of making jokes at his own Party’s lack of policy on anything. Maybe he is beginning to sense he has been left out as sharkbait. Conway is a nice guy, and as we all know, in the National Party Universe, nice guys finish last. However God loves a trier and CP is certainly that. We grade him on his sincere but plodding efforts.

Hilary Calvert (-9000%)

I don’t usually give out complete failures, but since the ACT Party want to return to traditional pass/fail educational standards, I feel I can make an exception in this case.

Hilary gave the worst presentation possible. Even I was surprised at her total, resounding lack of any clues about how to deal with this debate. 

I will ignore her politics entirely, for I simply fail to understand how any civilized, modern human being could subscribe to such a half-baked mash of gruesome social darwinism and basic gut-level greed worship. So it would be unfair of me to judge her on her politics.

On her presentation, however, some basic notes:

1. Do not start your speech by telling everyone how they will probably disagree with you. In ACT Party language, a loser attitude will get you a loser result.

2. Do not tell your audience they are stealing money off taxidrivers and grannies. This indicates a sort of political self-destruction urge.

3. Try to find common ground with the audience and present your philosophy as motivated by some kind of positive vibe that connects you with the human race, rather than Nietzsche without the sense of humour.

4. Do not repeat tired cliches like money doesn’t grow on trees or there is no free lunch, because people resent being talked to like they are thickos.

This was always going to be a tough debate for ACT, but someone like Rodney Hide would have bulldozed his way through like a rhino on steroids. Oh well. 

Pete Hodgson (Must try harder, just coasting)

Skeletor” was only going through the motions today. 

His speech only featured a few of his characteristic snarls at the audience and his habit of using punctuation marks in his sentences is becoming increasingly strange.

(i.e Vote for Labour, brackets, vote for Pete Hodgson, close brackets, comma, ampersand, full stop.)

He gave a depressingly empty explanation of why the Government was subsidizing Cadbury’s to set up their new chocolate crumb facility in Dunedin, although I would have picked Pete as more of a compulsive minty TicTac chomper than a chocolate crumb man.

However Pete was in a chipper mood beforehand with the other candidates and is probably looking forward to his relaxing new job as opposition spokesperson for veterinary affairs.

Joe Burton (PhD candidate)

Joe Burton is the United pointsman in Dunedin. A highly qualified Englishman, quietly spoken and personally likeable, Joe’s main problem is that he is in the wrong party. I believe this is dawning on him slowly.

Metiria Turei (7.6 feelgood vibes)

Metiria was her usual cheery self and had loads of supporters with those stupid “I only date boys who vote Green” stickers. No wonder they all look like depressed vegans.

Trouble is with these greenies is none of them actually seem to realize that to fund the Green promises you would have to completely reverse capitalism, which would result in a massive backlash from the rulers. 

The Greens would last about as long as the Happy Valley Snail under a coal truck in such circumstances, because they don’t seem to have any appreciation of these political realities. Why can’t we all just get along, maan?

I actually challenged Meteria on this point during the debate, as to where they were getting their cash from. I think her answer was a little bit of a porky actually because I am still to see any convincing taxation policy from the Greens.

However that’s why I’m not a Green and it was obvious that the liberal hippy crew loves the brand. And of course, it’s hard to dislike these shaggy peaceniks. Hell, some of my best friends are Greens, including my old mate Quentin Jamieson who lives with his tribe of kids and organic chickens next to a swamp in downtown Karamea. (Now that’s a real Green!)

The people who really irk me are ex-Alliance voters who are fudging around supporting the Greens because they don’t have the spine to get back where they should be in a proper democratic socialist party like us. However, some of my best friends are also Alliance refugees hiding in the Greens until someone else does all the hard work of getting the Alliance steaming along again. We’ll get there. But it would be a lot quicker if you guys saw the light . . . 

Maori Party candidate (Pass)

I can’t remember this ladies name, but she was from Invercargill (that’s a start). She had a nice demeanour, seemed genuine and had her heart in the right place.

Politically though I thought she didn’t really have a clue about anything and to be honest I can’t actually recall anything much she said about policies. If the Maori Party cut a deal with National, they deserve nothing but disdain for selling out their people.

Finally I was pleased to see the Jim Anderton’s Hi I’m Jim Anderton and I used to be a relevant politician and this is my little kingdom the Progressive Party flunking out as usual, they couldn’t even get someone to the debate. They are probably too embarrassed by their hideous new website to show their faces in public.

Written by Victor

October 3, 2008 at 11:34 am

Pete Hodgson moves to the left

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Labour Minister Pete Hodgson has reconsidered after hearing me today at the Tertiary Student Forum in Dunedin. Well, no actually, but it is a good photo.

Written by Victor

October 3, 2008 at 7:50 am

Fun and games at the University Union

with 5 comments

I get invited to most debates in Dunedin. Community forums, unions, even church groups invite me along. But we seem to have real problems getting our voice heard at student events.

That’s right. You heard. Wild crazy students, radical longhairs chanting for the destruction of Western Civilization. Well, once upon a time.

Apart from a few slightly hazy protests about dope smoking (not really the most pressing issue) it seems students just ain’t interested these days. It would help if the Students Association did some serious advertising and ran proper multi-party forums and this is an issue I took up today.

I went along today to the University forum thinking there was going to be a mass debate due to a particularly confusing poster. Unfortunately it was just ex-United MP Judy Turner, a nice lady who sympathized all the poor students while explaining how she was going to “incrementally” change things. The only incremental thing I can see is a $10 billion student debt, it’s getting incrementally bigger while everyone says how terrible it is, but won’t actually do anything about it.

Well that’s all well and good but my point here is that I was not invited to speak at these forums. Despite being told by the current Student Prez that I “added something to the debates” earlier in the year, it seems perhaps I was adding too much because it looks like I got left out. Oh, yes, that’s right, we only want “parliamentary parties” to tell us about how great student fees are, even if they have no local candidates, no local profile and have done absolutely nothing except piddle around the edges or even work against free education.

What a waste of a plane fare! She had to come all the way from Auckland to speak to 20 people. Most of whom were eating their lunch, sprinkled with a few Alliance and Green supporters and a table of bright eyed and bushy tailed Labour Party youth hacks working busily on their future careers as professional yes men in Wellington.

So I took up the issue with the Student Prez there and then, in a fairly direct manner.

I look forward to my invite to speak at Otago University.

We’ll wait and see.

Written by Victor

October 1, 2008 at 1:55 am

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Close encounters of the Winston Kind

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Imagine my surprise today as I strolled into Otago University for a lunchtime interview with Critic magazine. A crowd was gathered around and I pushed through the spectators towards a strangely familiar voice.

There he was in pinstriped resplendence, the Minister for Racing, Deputy Dubious Donation Demon and allround remnant of a past glorious age of New Zealand politics where dinosaurs trod the earth . . .

Winston Peters.

Peters, like Lange, Muldoon, and Napoleon, is a short man. Let’s leave aside the psychological implications of this, and instead admire his bouffant, remarkable hairstyle which seems to have gone grey very quickly.

The assembled students stared blankly at him as he rambled on, obviously in a relaxed mood, sporting a cheeky grin and trailed by a throng of media supplicants hoping for some history making moment.

Question time caused some problems as the intellectual elite of tomorrow looked on like a herd of sleepy ruminants and the silence became a little embarrassing. Peters is a man used to fending off rabid journalists and fraud office operatives, and was not prepared for the resounding lack of interest from the young scholars.

So, feeling sorry for him, I asked a question. The Student President looked depressed as I strode forward and introduced myself. I gave Winston a bit of a ginger up and it was heartwarming to see the Old Warrior light up as I gave him someone to focus on in a good old fashioned slanging match. He patronized me and I told him he was on the way out, then I asked my question, and he performed a magic Houdini trick of telling everyone all the good things New Zealand First had done.

None of this was anything to do with my question, and indicates perhaps his continuing fascination for the Fourth Estate, who have devoted an entire election campaign to his pantomime act while refusing to engage in any serious debate on trifling issues like $10 billion student debt, free trade with China and the global recession.

Afterwards I went off into the Student Cafe to do my Critic interview, where I watched a streaker run past Winston and the crowd – a suitably surreal moment that I would entitle the Naked and the Politically Dead in homage to Norman Mailer – if it wasn’t for the fact that Winston will invent some transparently obvious ruse in the week before the election.

For example, blaming leaky house syndrome on Martian immigrant lizards from Asia – and comfortably romping home with the last minute “dense” voters, who will fasten on his words as the answer to all of life’s problems. That’s our Winston.

Written by Victor

September 19, 2008 at 5:09 am